Fellow Passengers: This week’s Promise Passage* (I Samuel 11) transports me to Solferino, Italy, June 1859, where the last battle was fought with all the armies under the personal command of their respective monarchs. The Battle of Solferino brought victory to the allied French Army under Napoleon III against Emperor Franz Joseph’s Austrian Army. The Battle is most notable for someone who wasn’t a part of it. A Swiss businessman, Henri Dunant, visited Solferino soon after the battle and witnessed the horrible aftermath of war. He wrote his observations in a book, A Memory of Solferino, and he included ideas for how to ameliorate some of the horrors of war. His suggestions led to the treaties and protocols of the Geneva Convention, as well as the establishment of the Red Cross. For his contributions to a more humane way to engage in violent conflict, Dunant was recipient of the first Nobel Peace Prize in 1901. The purposes of the Geneva Convention were to diminish the effects of conflict and unnecessary suffering, safeguard civilians and prisoners of war, prevent conflict from degenerating in to savagery, and make it easier to sustain peace once the conflict is settled. A modern example of war crimes prosecutable under the Geneva Convention took place in Srebrenica, a city in the east of Bosnia and Herzegovina. On July 11, 1995, over ten thousand Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslims) fled the city, marching in a three mile long single file trying to reach the Bosnian government lines thirty miles away. Along the way they were met by men wearing stolen UN uniforms, driving stolen UN vehicles, claiming they were Peacekeepers sent there to oversee the Bosniak’s surrender, with a guarantee they wouldn’t be harmed. The exhausted marchers fell for the lie, surrendered, only to be victims of wholesale slaughter by the disguised Serbs. By the end of the day, over 8,000 Bosniaks were massacred, with victims including men, women, children, and babies. The International Court of Justice prosecuted the perpetrators of this genocidal action, applying Article 37 of Additional Protocol I to the Geneva Conventions, which states that acts inviting the confidence of an adversary to lead him to believe that he is entitled to, or is obliged to accord, protection under the rules of international law applicable in armed conflict, with intent to betray that confidence, shall constitute perfidy.
Another of the ideas Henri Dunant engendered for rules of war was a law against feigning surrender. Faking the white flag denotes treachery and perfidy according to the Convention. It was a good thing for Farmer Saul (soon to be King Saul) that he was not subject to the war crimes described in the Geneva Convention. While there were some scant rules of engagement listed in the Mosaic law that sought to minimize environmental destruction and brutality toward captured slaves, there was nothing there about faking surrender. Henri Dunant could no doubt have written another volume on the horrors of war had he been around to witness the conflict between the Ammonites and the Hebrew people of Jabesh Gilead. Neither side comes across as particularly interested in diminishing unnecessary suffering or safeguarding civilians or preventing conflict from degenerating into savagery. The besieged people of Jabesh wave the white flag and offer to surrender, but the captain of the Ammonites will only agree to peace if he can gouge out the right eye of every citizen. In a curious twist, the captain does grant the Jabesh people’s request for a seven day truce, so they can send out an SOS and see if anyone will come to their rescue. Saul, plowing his field, hears the distress call and responds, gathering up an army of several hundred thousand. Word gets back to the Jabesh community, and they set up the Ammonites with a fake surrender. Once the Ammonite army falls for the treachery and perfidy, Saul’s army comes in and slaughters them in a surprise midnight attack.
Over a century of continuous warfare since the inception of the Geneva Convention has demonstrated that the laws of armed conflict are often thrown out the window in the heat of war. The older aphorism, “all’s fair in love and war” seems to take over, with case after case of savagery that makes it hard to achieve the last goal of the Laws of Armed Conflict: make it easier to sustain peace once the conflict is settled. The miracle is that sustained peacemaking has happened outside the protocols of the Convention. Time after time, we have seen incredible peace achieved through Truth and Reconciliation Commissions, in places like Rwanda and South Africa. This year, Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim Thaci proposed a Truth and Reconciliation process between the Bosniaks and Serbs. For these processes to work, another kind of surrender has to happen. It is a surrender of cynicism about the cycle of violence, a surrender of disbelief that peace is possible. For it to work, this surrender cannot be feigned. I’ll surrender my own despair about the state of the world as I watch to see what kind of peace is achieved there.
How about you? Where does this Promise Passage take you on your journey of faith? Feel free to comment, and share with friends on Facebook, Google+, Twitter, email, etc. Note: If you mouse over any of the artwork, information about the image will pop up.